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Ann Whitford Paul, author of WRITING PICTURE BOOKS says, “Just because you are not a poet doesn’t mean you can’t use some poetic tools.” Here are some to try:
ALLITERATION: This is the repetition of the initial consonant sounds of words in a sucession, such as long, low lullaby. Using too many together can turn a sentence into a tongue twister and a nightmare to read. Remember when writing picture books, your words will be read out loud, so your words need to flow off the tongue.
ASSONANCE: This is the repetition of vowel sounds in succession, as in: Sweep street clean. You can pick up the long e, but you can make the sounds more subtle and still have impact. Would you sweep the street in front of our house? Alice Schertle, author of Very Hairy Bear, uses assonance twice: “KERPLUNK! He’ll even dunk his no hair nose.” The short U sound is repeated, as is the long O sound.
CONSONANCE: This repeats the same middle and end sounds as in fat cat sat or beginning and ending consonants in a word sequence such as click, clack or sniffle, snuffle. For prose spread out: He heard the click and then the clack of the train coming down the track.
ONOMATOPOEIA: Words that imitate sounds. Click here for list. Kids and adults love these word, because they are easy to and fun to read.
Homework: Pull out your manuscript. Did you use any of the above techniques in your text? Could you improve what you wrote, if you added some of them in your sentences?
Some of my writer friends had new books come out this year so I wanted to give a shout out to them in case you're stumped as to what to give your book-loving children or relatives this holiday.
An enchanting cat story by best-selling author, Mary Nethery
In Venice in the 1890s, a plain white cat, left to fend for scraps, makes his way into the heart of a cafe owner who has nothing to spare. In no time at all, though, Nini becomes a celebrity, hosting visits from the composer Giuseppe Verdi, the king and queen of Italy, and even Pope Leo XIII. Nini's fame helps save the struggling business. But is his stardom enough to produce a small miracle of a different sort?
A new historic novel by Newbery Honor Award winner, Kirby Larson
Piper Davis awaits news of her brother, a sailor on the battleship Arizona stationed in Pearl Harbor. Explosions rule the earth and sky, and Piper wonders what will become of her brother, and of her life in Seattle, as blackouts and rationing take hold. Soon, Piper is greeted by another grim situation—the incarceration of her Japanese neighbors.
A clever biography by Sibert Honor winner, Barbara Kerley
0 Comments on Recommended Books by My Writer Friends Across the Country as of 1/1/1900
Word play is something we all enjoy in our home – whether it is J making up rhyming nonsense words or me making a terrible joke based around the multiple meanings of a given word (what my husband calls “a Zoe joke”). Unsurprisingly, books that play on words are also favourites, and a recent discovery for us that we’ve really enjoyed is Word Builder by Ann Whitford Paul, illustrated by Kurt Cyrus.
With just a single sentence or phrase per page, accompanied by outsized illustrations on a grand scale Word Builder instructs its reader on the steps needed to construct first words and sentences before moving on to paragraphs and chapters, ultimately leading to the creation of a whole book.
Begin your new construction
with twenty-six letters.
Hammer a through z into words.
Pile your words like blocks
into sentence towers -
measure some tall,
saw others short.
This is no dry reference book, but instead something like a poem. The use of the imperative gives the text and immediacy; the reader/listener is directly addressed, making it seem like the story has been written for them alone – a great device for engaging little people in the perhaps otherwise somewhat (potentially) dull subject of composition.
The large scale illustrations showing the construction process, with giant letters mortared and buttressed together, all overseen by a young yellow-helmeted boy are exciting; the sometimes unexpected perspectives on the building process are thrilling. All in all, an interesting example of a picture book great for those already at school rather than pre-schoolers, a super book for those interested in words, for children beginning to write and for anyone who loves a good digger, crane or bulldozer!
Having read Word Builder we set straight to constructing some sentences, paragraphs and word cities of our own. Inspired by this post from Letter Soup, and this post from Filth Wizardry I picked up a bag of construction blocks from a charity shop. M and I prepared stickers with various words on them: M chose many of the words herself and then I wrote them on the stickers before both girls stuck them on the blocks ready to start building with.
As the building blocks we had came in a lot of different colours I chose to use one colour for e
There are a large number of books out there on how to write children’s picture books. I’ve read most of them, and I have to admit this new book by Ann Whitford Paul is up there among the best.
Picture book writing requires a unique set of skills and it’s important for the writer to begin acquiring those skills even before creating that first manuscript. For this reason, the author stresses the importance of becoming a picture book scholar. Then, in an engaging, structured and straig
I have been an instructor with UCLA Extension's Writing Program for ten years. I adore teaching there, love the students, love the challenges. Following the example of master teacher Myra Cohn Livingston (with whom I studied for twelve years), I am a big believer in homework for adult learners. Lots of it. I've found that the more work they do and the less dancing-on-a-table-top-in-the-front-of the-classroom I do, the better the teacher they think I am.
Sometimes, though, critiquing each student's story every week wears me down. (Can you relate?) It's a fine line between thoroughly critiquing each story in order to help the author get it into shape...and spending more time critiquing it than the author spent writing it.
I don't know how you teachers with six classes a day, thirty students per class do it. I think you may be magicians.
I wanted to change my universe. I wanted the playfulness back in teaching. So I proposed a new class. It was accepted and I'll be teaching it this summer (yippee!). Here’s a draft of the course description:
Chockful of short and longer in-class writing exercises, this workshop is designed especially for children's picture book writers. By focusing on recurring subjects such as Tell the Truth, Less is More, Quote-Unquote, and The Power of Observation, you have the time and creative space to delve into a range of fresh approaches to these universal themes as you engage in stimulating writing exercises and constructive give-and-take with your instructor and peers. In addition to inspiring new work and points of view on it, this workshop loosens up your tight fists, unwrinkles your worried brow, and reminds you how satisfying and fun writing can be. All writing and critiquing is performed in class; students are given the opportunity to read their work aloud if they wish. Enrollment limit: 20 students
NO HOMEWORK for me OR for the students! Doesn't that sound great?
Each of the six classes is three hours long, so I’m collecting fun, inspiring writing exercises.
There have been times when I get calls or emails from beginning writers who want my input on their manuscripts. Used to be that I would read their stories and offer up comments. But not any more. I decided to leave that job to the editors. Yet I do recommend them to join the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and take advantage of all their handouts about publishers and guidelines for submitting manuscripts.
Thankfully I have another place other than the SCBWI website to send aspiring writers - to Ann Whitford Paul's new book, Writing Picture Books: A Hand-On Guide From Story Creation to Publication.
Ann has an accessible writing style that nudges you along, helping you to look at your manuscript objectively to figure out ways to compose stories that have better chances of selling in the current market. She uses many examples from her own writing to illustrate her points. She also includes playful ways to attack your manuscript using crayons, highlighters, scissors and tape to craft it into more salable shape. I'd recommend it for published writers as well, since it never hurts to refresh your skills, and perhaps find a new way of approaching the editing process.
So thanks, Ann, for helping us writers hone our skills.
I confess upfront: I admire Ann Whitford Paul’s picture books; I value her Writing Workshops; I’m an ardent fan of this talented children’s book writer. However, even if I didn’t treasure this fellow Teaching Author, I’d recommend her text to all who write – and want to write – picture books.
In fact, for the first time ever in my upcoming Picture Book Workshop at Chicago’s Newberry Library beginning late September, I’ve listed Ann’s book as required reading.
The Truth is: Ann gets this singular art form. She understands its grounding and place in children’s literature. She knows only too well, there’s first the story, then the telling.
Both the book’s content and its organization reflect Ann’s knowledge and experience as an award-winning picture book author and as a much-respected teacher.
The need to know children’s books published today. Characterization’s role in creating flawless stories. Structure. Plotting. Beginning, middle, end. Scenes and Show, Don’t Tell. Stories in rhyme. Word choice. Rhythm. Tight writing. Dummying. How to submit and keep keepin' on.
For each teaching point, Ann offers not only supportive titles and authors to read and know; she also offers up her personal experiences. Each chapter concludes with a preview of the coming chapter, then content-related exercises titled “Before You Go On.” And throughout, writers are encouraged to apply what’s learned to two selected picture books chosen at the start (one loved, one hated), to their own work and to the work of others.
The first page of Writing Picture Books says it all. Ann wrote the book in loving memory of Sue Alexander, a beloved teacher, friend and SCBWI stalwart who modeled by sharing her love and knowledge of the picture book. Ann dedicates the book to “anyone who has ever written or dreamed of writing a picture book.” She notes a portion of the book’s proceeds will help fund SCBWI’s Barbara Karlin Grant that recognizes and encourages the work of aspiring picture book writers.
Ann Whitford Paul gets - and loves - the picture book. But even more important? Ann Whitford Paul gets - and loves -the picture book writer.
When we hosted Ann's blog tour for Writing Picture Books back in July, we promised a second-chance drawing for another of her books. So, if you haven't won any of our previous giveaways, now is your chance! Ann is providing a free, autographed copy of her picture book Word Builder, illustrated by Kurt Cyrus, for one lucky reader. To enter our drawing, you must post a comment sharing the title of a favorite book on how to write for children and/or teens. Be sure to include your email address, and please read our complete giveaway guidelines before you post. To be eligible, you must post your comment by midnight (CST) on Friday, September 18, 2009. The winner will be announced Saturday, September 19.
The End of the Conference: Autograph Party Photos...
After half a chocolate cupcake and half a yellow cupcake, I got some shots of the autograph party (which I didn't have to participate in because the 2009 CWIM didn't make it to the bookstore which in a way was OK because I feel a little silly signing books).
Susan Patron, Sara Pennypacker, and Ann Whitford Paul look happy about autographing.
Washingtonians Holly Cupala (who is holding one of the roses from the gorgeous bouquet her husband sent in celebration of her very recent two-book deal!) with RA Jolie Stekly and her stack of books.
The awesome Paula Yoo listens to a conference-goer as she prepares to sign her first novel, Good Enough.
Authors Katherine Applegate and Jay Asher--both of whom I interviewed for Insider Reports in the 2009 CWIM.
Rachel Cohn happily passes one of her novels off to a conference goer (note the red "Reading Is Power" bracelet) while Bruce Coville concentrates on signing.
Marla Frazee and her line of autograph seekers. (I wonder if her hand got tired.)
SCBWIRAs/authors Esther Hershenhorn (Illinois) and Ellen Hopkins (Nevada).
Down the row: Linda Zuckerman, Paula Yoo, Lisa Yee, Mark Teague, and Adam Rex (who you can sort of see).
Thank you for stopping by “Read These Books and Use Them” today. Author Ann Whitford Paul is with us today on her blog tour, and we have a real treat for you!
**LEAVE A COMMENT below by Tuesday, June 30, 8:00 p.m. CST, for a chance to win either Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide from Story Creation to Publication or Word Builder, a picture book about words. Two winners will be drawn randomly. Winner number one will get the first pick of the book he or she wants.
An interview with Ann Whitford Paul, author of Writing Picture Books and Word Builder:
Margo: Hi Ann, thank you so much for taking the time to stop by my blog today and share your knowledge with us. What made you want to write Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide from Story Creation to Publication?
Ann: I was fortunate enough to be advised, tutored, and taught by two fantastic teachers who encouraged and prodded me to keep working. Without Myra Cohn Livingston and Sue Alexander, I might still be unpublished. When I finally had a few books published, I knew I wanted to pay back those talented and giving women by doing what they did–mentoring and teaching others. So I started teaching at UCLA Extension. One of my students, Molli Nickell, first brought up the idea of writing a book [about writing picture books], but I was terrified. My manuscripts were only 350 words long. Could I really write a book for adults that in the end turned out to be 350 manuscript pages? I put it off and put it off for several years until finally I willed myself to begin. Breaking the project into chapters made it much easier. I thought of each chapter as a picture book, and then I was able to proceed. Also I discovered that much of the material for my book already lived in my computer. Handouts and class lectures were adapted and revised to fit into the book. Isn’t it amazing how a project that seems so overwhelming can turn out not to be so once we begin?
Margo: That is so true; and we all know it when we are busy procrastinating instead of writing, but we do it anyway. (laughs) Your book offers chapters on all sorts of topics for picture book writers from early story decisions to the structure of your story to what to do when your story is finally done! Out of all of the advice and tips in the book, what are the two things writers can start doing today to improve their picture book manuscripts?
Ann: Yipes! Just two? I think my first suggestion would be to pay close attention to the language of your story. Picture books are meant to be read out loud. Therefore the words have to be able to flow off the tongue of the adult reader. They have to be written in such a manner that even an untrained actor can read them with expression. In addition, they must echo the action in the story. In my book, I spend several chapters talking about the sounds and rhythms of words and sentences. Quiet scenes need quieter words and leisurely sentences. High action scenes need hard words and short tight sentences. Work hard on the language of your story, and you’ll be one step ahead of most picture book writers.
The second suggestion would be to fill your story with action. Action can be illustrated. Think of your picture book as a slide show with each page or spread giving the illustrator an opportunity for a new picture. Following up on this, I encourage every picture book writer to make a dummy of her book . . . a dummy is 32 pages (the usual length of a picture book) with your words pasted on each page where you think they would fall. This dummy is not to send to the publisher, but [it] is yours to make sure that you have good picture variety, strong page turns, and both tight openings and endings. I wouldn’t submit a manuscript without making a dummy.
But my most important advice (I guess this is cheating because it’s number three) to any writer, whether picture books or adult novels, is not to try to imitate other writers. Dr. Seuss and J. K. Rowling are unique. Their books succeed because they were the first. Follow the stories that grab you, and have faith that your experiences and outlook will make your books unique and therefore maybe even best sellers.
Margo: I’m glad you cheated and included three tips because all three are equally important. Let’s switch now and talk about your picture book that you have out called Word Builder. How can teachers use Word Builder in their classrooms? Would it be appropriate for all elementary grades?
Ann: My friend Sandy Sandy Schuckett, a retired librarian, made up a worksheet for teachers to use in the classroom. I’m attaching it here [see the file link below for the worksheet], and it will be available when I update my website, www.annwhitfordpaul.com, soon.
Many schools have units where students write books, and I would imagine that WORD BUILDER might take some of the fear of writing away from girls and boys. After all, writing is simply building words into sentences and sentences into paragraphs. It’s as natural as piling blocks into a tower or walking forward along a line. One block and one step at a time. That’s how you get a story down. And once the story is down, then comes my favorite part—revision. I agree with Katherine Patterson when she said, “I love revisions. Where else in life can spilled milk be transformed into ice cream?” The hardest part of writing is the first draft, then comes the fun part—making a story the best it can be.
Margo: Ann, such words of wisdom from you and Katherine Patterson. Teachers, make sure you download this two page resource for use with the book, Word Builder. It is excellent! worksheetwordbuilder.doc
**Don’t forget to leave a comment or question for Ann for a chance to win one of her fantastic books!
We have two firsts today--our first Guest Teaching Author interview, and our first Book Giveaway!We are happy to welcome author, poet, and teacher Ann Whitford Paul to TeachingAuthors.com as our first Guest Teaching Author. Ann is the author of 17 picture books for children. Her poetry has been published in numerous anthologies, and she teaches picture book writing through the UCLA extension
"In addition to discussing what we've learned about writing and the teaching of writing, we also hope to accomplish something on the blog that we can't do on our websites: facilitate conversations between writers, teachers, and librarians about the subjects we love best--writing, teaching writing, and reading," says Carmela Martino.
To encourage that interaction, Teaching Authors is open to topic suggestions from their readers. (See the Ask the Teaching Authors section in the blog sidebar to submit writing or teaching uestions.)
Today Teaching Authors offers their first Guest Teaching Author interview featuring Ann Whitford Paul, who I had the pleasure of working with on her WD title Writing Picture Books. Visit Teaching Authors to read the terrific interview with Ann and you could win an autographed copy of WPB--readers have until 11 pm Friday (central time) to enter. (Contest rules will be posted.)
I have a confession. I missed writing again yesterday. Doh! So no word count.
But, today, author Ann Whitford Paul is joining us on Day By Day Writer. Ann is an expert on writing picture books, and I’ve grilled her on the art of telling a complete story in 700 words of less. If you have another question for Ann, post it in the comments.
Ann, congratulations on your new book, Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide From Story Creation to Publication. I think the work it takes to write a great picture book is underestimated. I’ve tried writing some, and still haven’t succeeded. I’ll have to get your book! How long did it take you to figure out the process of writing picture books, and how did you learn it?
I’m a slow learner. I was writing picture book stories for 5 years before I sold my first one. Why did it take so long? One reason was I was busy raising four children and it was difficult grabbing chunks of time to focus. But when I did have time, I always wrote and my bookshelves hold the evidence of the numerous books I read about craft. In addition I attended classes at UCLA Extension and looked forward every summer to the SCBWI National summer conference in Los Angeles. Another thing I did was study picture books. Besides reading many to my children, I also typed up their texts to have after I returned the books to the library. I even made dummies (pretend books of 32 pages with the text cut out and pasted where it went in the published book.) I still do that with favorite books. It helped me learn about pacing and page turns in picture books.
How important is character development and action in picture books? What are the most important elements?
Strong characters are incredibly important in picture books. Just think back to those picture books you loved from your childhood. My favorites,
which will date me, were Ferdinand and Peter Rabbit. My children loved Rotten Ralph and Curious George. Now my granddaughters love Fancy Nancy and Olivia. A strong, compelling and imperfect character gives child listeners someone to identify with and worry about and, most valuably, a friend to
come back and visit over and over again.
Action is also necessary because our books are illustrated and thoughts and dialog are difficult to illustrate. Also we want lots happening in our books to grab and keep the young children’s attention.
Which of your books was the easiest and which the hardest? Why?
The easiest book I ever wrote was EIGHT HANDS ROUND: A PATCHWORK ALPHABET because quilting and sewing patchwork is a hobby of mine. Also, from the time I was a child, I have been interested in history . . . not the dry dates of battles and treaties, but the everyday details of how people used to live. Patchwork patterns with their names inspired by the times they were stitched, such as Anvil, Buggy Wheel, Churn Dash spoke of earlier centuries. Even though I read over 60 books and spent six months researching, this was the easiest book I wrote, because it came out of my passions and I cared deeply about getting it right.
One of the hardest books I wrote is IF ANIMALS KISSED GOOD NIGHT. This was inspired by a game I used to play with my third child, Alan. We live close to a zoo and often went there after afternoon naps. Then, that night, we would pretend we were animals and tried to kiss the way they might. For example, we held our arms like long trunks and kissed at the end of them like an Elephant might do. We squirmed on the ground and kissed like snakes. We kissed while hopping pretending to be kangaroos. But the writing was impossible. I wrote one version that echoed exactly what we had done–a mother and son playing the game together and sent it to several editors. It was always rejected. Finally one editor explained why. She thought it was a bit incestuous!! Wow! That thought had never occurred to me. So I had to go back to square one. I decided to forget about people in the book and just imagine how animals might kiss and not have any people in it. Interestingly, the illustrator, David Walker, put in a mother and her child at the beginning and end of the book so it would feel like a conversation between the two. Also this time, I wrote using rhythm and rhyme so that took more time.
What are some of you favorite picture books from other authors, ones that have inspired your work?
I absolutely adore this new rhymed picture book I CAN DO IT MYSELF by Diane Adams and illustrated by my friend Nancy Hayashi. THANK YOU, SARAH: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving by Laurie Halse Anderson is also a favorite. It’s amazing how lively she made a history book. Helen Ketteman in BUBBA THE COWBOY PRINCE and other retellings uses fabulous fun language. Check them out.
It seems that word counts are always changing. What’s the current trend?
I always get nervous when my picture book text hits 700 words. In WRITING PICTURE BOOKS I have a chapter about the different word counts in board
books, picture books and picture story books. The more a writer is familiar with children of all ages, the more he/she can predict their attention spans
and write accordingly.
Picture books seem to always be in demand. Can you tell us a bit about that segment of the publishing business right now?
Ouch! The publishing business is going through tumultuous growing, or perhaps changing is the more appropriate term, pains. Many wonderful editors have been laid off, and budgets are being cut back so publishing houses are more careful about what manuscripts they buy. That could be a good thing for the world if it means more quality books. On the other hand, it’s difficult for the creators, because the odds of selling a manuscript are decreasing. I certainly hope picture books and that wonderful sensual experience of shared reading and turning pages together will be around for a long time.
Thanks so much, Ann.
Don’t forget you can leave Ann a question in the comments.
We have a winner!But before I announce the winner's name, I want to thank everyone who posted in response to our first Guest Teaching Author interview. We loved the variety of picture books you all shared, and we enjoyed your wonderful comments!I also want to again thank Ann Whitford Paul for her terrific interview. And I need to apologize to Ann--I neglected to include a link to her website when
Oh, if only Ann Whitford Paul’s hands-on, right-on and thus write-on guide Writing Picture Books had been available when I first began writing.[Note: the President at that time bore the initials J.C.]Alas, Writing for Children wasn’t in vogue then.The singular format (and art form) “picture book” was often labeled “picture storybook.”The IBM Selectric typewriter reigned supreme, unaware the word
Well, for those of you not lucky enough to be in the room with Ann Whitford Paul right now, I have a small consolation prize at the bottom of this post.
One of Ann's rules for a strong beginning: Let the reader know right away what the tone of your story is - sad, silly, scary, serious, etc. Imagine reading a story that has a happy title and starts off sounding cheerful and finding out a few pages in that the characters beloved PET dies!
Ann then provides examples of differently toned stories.
A good example of a sad story done well: THE TENTH GOOD THING ABOUT BARNEY by Judith Viorst (and the fantastic illustrations of Erik Blevgad).
First page text:
My cat Barney died last Friday.
I was very sad.
I cried, and I didn't watch television.
I cried and I didn't eat my chicken or even the chocolate pudding.
I went to bed and I cried.
The first line of the story sets up the tone. The two first lines are 'telling' lines, yes, says Ann, but then we go on to be 'shown' how sad the main character is in the next three lines. We also get a little taste of humor with the line about chocolate pudding. A very strong start to a wonderful picture book.
Ann gives other examples of strong story beginnings. She tells the audience about her 'W's (one of which is 'Wow') and Ann provides the workshoppers with some, pardon my French, freaking awesome handouts.
Would you like to find the WHO WHAT WHERE WHEN WANT and WOW of your story?
Lucky you, Ann has a great new book out:
Read about it here and here and check out the book trailer below.